Virtual Team Virtues (Post 2 of 5)

Virtual-Teams-Using-Agile-DevelopmentThe use of virtual teams is a popular and growing workplace trend. As consultant and author Keith Ferrazzi describes in the Harvard Business Review (12/14) article “Getting Virtual Teams Right,” following best practices around four key areas greatly increases the effectiveness of virtual teams. He identifies the first key area as having the right team.

What makes a great virtual team? Ferrazzi notes that all successful virtual team players share some characteristics: good communication skills, high emotional intelligence, an ability to work independently and the resilience to recover from the snafus that inevitably arise. He recommends that leaders should conduct behavioral interviews and personality tests to screen for these qualities. This is something we have done for years at Intertech and I highly recommend it. While the evaluations are fairly expensive, they’re “priceless” when compared to the cost of a bad hire.

Ferrazzi also makes an interesting observation about the size of virtual teams. He suggests that the most effective virtual teams are small (fewer than 10 people). A study by OnPoint Consulting found the worst performing virtual teams had 13 members or more. Apparently, as the team size increases something called “social loafing” kicks in as individuals begin to feel less responsibility for output.

The other aspect of getting a virtual team right has to do with communication. Specifically, how roles are clarified and communicated. Ferrazzi recommends forming sub teams when projects require the efforts of multiple people from various departments. Intertech typically identifies one project leader, who serves as the main point of contact with everyone else on the team.

Because we use agile methodology, the client’s team members also are part of our “daily standup,” which is a brief call where everyone shares what they did yesterday, what they will be doing today, and any challenges they are facing.  This provides daily updates on everyone’s tasks and allows team members in different locations to understand what everyone is doing and how they may be able to help.

At the end of each sprint we do a demo of what was completed in the last one. This is a “retrospective” to discuss what did or didn’t go well and it is how we decide, as a team, what to keep and what to improve. So the whole team gets better with each sprint/iteration by fine-tuning the process in planned steps along the way.

Next time I’ll share Ferrazzi’s thoughts, and my own, on how the right leadership can increase the odds of virtual team success.

Virtual Team Virtues (Post 1 of 5)

Virtual-Teams“A 2005 Deloitte study of IT projects outsourced to virtual work groups found that 66 percent failed to satisfy the clients’ requirements,” reports Keith Ferrazzi in the Harvard Business Review (12/14) article “Getting Virtual Teams Right.”

Ferrazzi, a principal with the California-based business consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight and author of Never Eat Alone, also cites a 2009 study of 80 global software teams that found that “well managed dispersed teams can actually outperform those that share office space,” as well as an Aon Consulting report that noted “using virtual teams can improve employee productivity, with some organizations seeing gains of up to 43 percent.”

I’m a strong advocate of virtual work groups, and believe the discrepancy behind these vastly different study results can be traced to those two little words “well managed.” Getting it right when working remotely requires strong management and other elements—the right team, the right leadership, the right touchpoints and the right technology—which Ferrazzi’s HBR article details. I will share the highlights with you in my next four posts.

Today, though, I would like to touch on the myriad customer and employee advantages of virtual teams, which we use extensively. When Intertech IT consultants work remotely (typically from their homes), customers benefit from:

  • Access to talent and skill sets that may not be currently available in their market, particularly if the customer is located in rural locations.
  • A deep bench. While the client may be hiring a specific team, a firm like Intertech has many other resources at its disposal beyond a specific team. Our consultants can (and do) bounce ideas off each other throughout our firm, relying on the same communications technology that tethers them to clients, without any added cost for customers.
  • Demonstration of best practices. It’s common that our clients don’t have strong development or agile practices. Using one of our virtual teams gives them an infusion of best practices that may be difficult to create locally on the client site.  We know this is powerful because clients, after experiencing how we deliver projects remotely, have adopted our processes or asked that we help them implement those processes internally.
  • Free technology and “workspaces.” Computers, software, workstations all represent significant costs. A typical professional laptop costs $2,000 and potentially $1,000’s in software cost.  When we work remotely, those costs don’t exist for customers.
  • Community goodwill. Some of our clients are located in remote areas with limited local IT resources. Due to their remote locations it’s hard to recruit employees, which can result in “talent poaching” from the few local businesses that may employ IT professionals. This can cause a fair amount of embarrassment, uncomfortable moments or even hostility in small towns where people know each other and frequently are in similar social or civic circles.

For employees, the benefits are simple and enormous: working remotely gives them the ability to manage their work and personal lives more flexibly. The advantages of a flexible work life should not be minimized, especially when your workforce includes a large percentage of millennials.

In case you’ve been sleeping, you probably already know that millennials soon will outnumber baby boomers in the United States and are on the cusp of representing the majority of the workforce. As was noted by Sarah Sladek, CEO and founder of XYZ University and author of the book, Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now, “Organizations are doomed to fail if they cling to old-guard ideas that motivated baby boomers.”

Clinging to the notion that employees must be located in an office where they can be observed like babies in a maternity ward is as antiquated as the tradition of proud fathers puffing cigars in the hospital waiting room. Remote or virtual work teams are not the future, they are the present, and my next post will share Ferrazzi’s thoughts—and my own—on the importance of having the right people in place for an effective virtual team.

iOS Compatibility Chart

If you know of anyone who creates applications for iPhones, iPads, or iPods, they may find this graphic useful.  It was created by our top iOS instructor and breaks down what iOS and Xcode versions are required for the various iOS devices.



Voice App Helps Hungry Customers – and keeps a major fast-food chain on top

PizzaRemember my post a few weeks back about the explosion of mobile apps? I recently read that Domino’s pizza has pushed the envelope a bit further by becoming the first major fast-food chain to offer a phone app that lets you order by voice. (If the last time you experienced Domino’s was in college, you might be surprised to learn that the pizza has improved dramatically and the company now operates nearly 11,000 stores in 70 markets around the world.)

Of course, most of us are used to ordering pizza by voice. It’s usually a frustrating experience in which you are repeatedly put on hold as a harried manager juggles dealing with onsite customers who are eager to order or pay their checks. But with Domino’s new app, the harried pizza guy is replaced by “Dom,” a computer enhanced male voice (he currently only responds to English).

Looks like Domino’s has figured out how to stay number one with the coveted Millennials demographic? It shouldn’t be a surprise since Domino’s current mobile app is its fastest-growing ordering vehicle, representing 18 percent in sales (totaling $459 million in 2013).

Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle believes that the day will come when typing on keyboards with our thumbs on mobile devices will be over.  “We want to be the ones who continue to advance the technology experience,” Doyle commented in a recent USA Today story.

Domino’s is smart to be staying on the leading edge of technology as it seeks to connect in ways most convenient for customers. Has your company considered how apps – computer, mobile or voice – might help to propel your business forward?

Uber. Indeed.

UberWikipedia defines Uber as “denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing” I agree.  Uber–a new service for getting a ride–is a great example of a business addressing the shortcomings of an industry.  As covered in last Sunday’s Star Tribune article, cab companies have dropped the ball.  Uber is getting push back from entrenched competitors.

The push back isn’t in the form of better service.  Rather, it’s in trying to use legal measures, lobbyists, etc. to stop Uber from entering new markets.  Uber has taken the core problems of an industry and solving the issues.

  • Wait times.   A few months ago, my wife and I waited nearly an hour for the cab (based 2.5 miles from our home) to arrive at our home.  I called the company a bunch of times.  When we got in the car, we saw the problem first hand.  When leaving our house, the dispatcher called for a car near an address which was no where near our address.  Our driver, talked to the dispatcher and said he was “almost there,” and then laughed to us saying, “that’s the way you do it.”
  • Discrimination.  As noted in the Star Tribune article, cabs discriminate. I’ve experienced it based on distance.  Around the same time as our hour-long wait time noted above, my wife and I got into a cab in St. Paul (we live a couple of miles from downtown).  As we pulled away, someone tapped the window.  The driver rolled the window down.  He asked, “Where are you going?” They said, “Bloomington.” which is about 15 miles further than our drop.  Our driver said to us, “Get out.”  We have also been declined numerous time when asked where we wanted to go, and have had to share a fare because the other people (picked up a few blocks from where we were initially picked up) were told they could just get in because they were traveling to Minneapolis.  I called the number in the cab.  They said it wasn’t in their jurisdiction.
  • Ratings.  Good for both drivers and passengers.  With Uber, both the driver and the passenger can rate the experience.
  • No $ transactions.  Over decades of traveling, I’ve run into cab drivers who “Didn’t have change” or “Couldn’t process a credit card.” With Uber, the payment and tip are all settled with your online account and there’s no transaction.
  • Extra long drives.  In first visited cities, I’m clueless.  Especially today, with two semi-toddlers, I’m not researching the “best route from airport to hotel.” The Uber app handles this with a post trip email with a map.

Uber indeed (as a disclosure, I’ve only used Uber’s service that uses vetted ‘black car’ services).